Paris was not a love at first sight sort of experience for me.
After contracting a stomach bug on my last night in Amsterdam, I spent the early morning train ride to Paris battling an unpleasant trifecta of nausea, hot flashes, and chills. When Anna and I finally made it to the Paris train station, I was shocked by how grungy everything was. Having been conditioned to expect a dreamy, romantic city from every romantic comedy ever, I was startled by all the graffiti and dilapidated storefronts. Undeterred by the jarring welcome, we valiantly wheeled our luggage through the streets in search of the flat we had rented for our stay. Unfortunately, the woman renting us the apartment had mistakenly given incorrect directions, so we spent the next half hour wandering around lost and discovering how few Parisians actually speak English.
This was not how I had pictured spending my first moments in Paris. I was hot and tired and sick and lost and 99.% sure I had never been so thirsty in my entire life. Without warning, I burst into tears. "I just want water!" I sobbed. Caught off guard by my unexpected outburst, Anna nevertheless proved why she is my favorite travel companion by calmly guiding me into a McDonald's, successfully miming "water" to the woman at the counter, and procuring two extra-large bottles of water. While I spent the next few minutes deliriously contemplating whether we should skip Paris altogether and head to Ireland early, she figured out how to navigate us to the flat. (Naturally, it was just a few blocks away.)
While Paris was not a love at first sight sort of experience for me, I did slowly fall for it over the next few days. Like any city, it has its fair share of grungy neighborhoods and seedy locales, but it has many redeeming qualities as well. Rainy and gray, Paris feels like a scene from an old, black-and-white film. Patisseries and bakeries line every corner, and the smell of fresh bread and crossiants and beignets waft through the air. Crusty baguettes and freshly baked loaves of bread can be purchased for less than a dollar. Open-air markets offer stand after stand of fruit, meat, cheese, and flowers. The regal architecture conjures images of Old Paris, back before World War Two, back when the world seemed like a simpler and less scary place.
And the artwork! From the priceless paintings in the Louvre to the steel-wrought Eiffel Tower, the entire city of Paris feels, in many ways, like one continuous piece of artwork, as if a watercolor painting has come to life. I don't normally frequent art museums (I try to appreciate art, but I don't really understand it), but I knew I had to make an exception for the Louvre. I'm so glad I did. Although I found the Mona Lisa to be underwhelming (actual reaction: I had to stand in line that long to see a painting approximately the size of a stamp?!), I absolutely loved getting to see hundreds of paintings and sculptures created by the greatest artists of all time.
After spending several hours exploring the Louvre, Anna and I walked the 2.7-mile stretch to the Eiffel Tower, weaving through narrow Parisian streets and strolling alongside the Seine River as we drew ever closer to the spiral tower. We bought a bag of sour gummies from a candy shop on the route and proceeded to eat them all underneath the tower. Looming larger than life, the wrought iron Eiffel Tower was one of my very favorite parts of France. (My ultimate favorite spot, however, was the Palace of Versailles.)
Paris isn't my favorite European city (Amsterdam and London are closely tied for that role), but I am so glad I was able to visit. It's one of those iconic places everyone should try to visit at some point in their lives. And as I watched sheets of rain fall on centuries-old buildings as locals scurried to their flats carrying giant bouquets of red lilies and bags of baguettes, I realized the movies might have been right. Maybe Paris is a little romantic after all.
What to do:
Visit the Louvre. From the Winged Victory of Samothrace to the Code of Hammurabi to the Portrait of Louis XIV, it is awe-inspiring to see so many masterpieces. Even if you aren't an art connoisseur, you should definitely plan to visit the Louvre during your stay.
Visit the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is one of those iconic destinations that absolutely lives up to the hype. Make sure you see it both during the day and at night.
Take a boat ride on the Seine River. Walking tours are always a fun way to orient yourself in a new city, but a sightseeing boat tour is especially fitting in Paris since the Seine River is such an integral part of the city. You'll be able to glimpse the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Pantheon, and other attractions.
Visit the Jardin du Luxembourg. Created in the 1600s, these picturesque gardens have plenty of fountains, statues, and flowers. It's the perfect place for a leisurely picnic.
Visit Sainte-Chapelle. Originally opened in 1248, Saint-Chapelle is a Gothic church with enormous domed ceilings, antique chandeliers, and stained glass windows. Reaching toward the heavens, the building is a remarkable feat of architecture that inspires a sense of reverence.
Sample all the freshly baked goodies from a local patisserie. From macaroons to fruit tarts to crossiants, you can't no wrong with the baked goods in Paris. Be sure to get an assortment so you can sample several different ones.
Spend a leisurely afternoon in a cafe. Pick a local cafe for lunch or afternoon coffee and tea. It's fun to take a break from touristy endeavors to do something more ordinary that will show you what everyday life is like.